Alison Cusack is the founder and principal lawyer of Cusack & Co. DCN interviewed her as part of its coverage of the IMO’s International Day for Women in Maritime.

What does the International Day for Women in Maritime mean to you?

I’m a big fan of the IMO having a day for this. The IMO made its theme of the year “empowering women in the maritime community” in 2019, and that was stunningly powerful in my day-to-day conversations with the senior men who would engage in whataboutism. Well, the IMO thought it was important enough to have an entire year dedicated to it, and if the IMO thinks it’s an issue, I’m going to take my cues from them. So, I love having an International Day for Women in Maritime.

In your opinion, what does it mean to “mobilise networks for gender equality”?

There are so many different groups, facets, declared leaders and undeclared leaders in this industry, but where are we? We’re seeing organisations in the maritime industry win awards for being an employer of choice, and they don’t even have paid maternity leave. When we talk about mobilising networks, how do we do that? Which networks? Where are we mobilising them to, and for what conversation? “Mobilising networks” implies you actually have a network. It’s like a government distributing healthcare programs through GPs and failing to recognise that most people don’t have a regular GP. If your assumption is based on a linchpin and you fail to realise that linchpin doesn’t exist, the whole thing collapses.

So then, what do leaders and organisations need to be aware of?

I feel like “mobilising networks” still puts the impetus on women – mobilise your networks so that you can combat gender inequality. The mental load, the time taken out of our day, our evenings and our work to address the issues to educate and to agitate falls on women. When have the all-male boards put gender equality on their agenda and recognised, “Hey, we’re a boardroom full of men. Clearly, we have gender inequality. What are we doing about it?”

How are you addressing this in your own networks?

When there was a report about a sexual harassment case in the US, I reposted it and said to the men in my network, “Your homework is, if ever you see anyone saying, ‘Well, she asked for it,’ or ‘This is why we don’t let women on board,’ it is your job to tell then, ‘Absolutely not’. That is your job – you are now policing the other men who respond inappropriately. When there is a persistent culture of exclusion and inappropriate behaviour, if you’re a leader who says, “it’s too hard to address”, then you don’t have the merit it takes to be a leader, so step aside. Or, if you believe you’re fantastic at being a leader and that culture still exists, then that negative culture was a choice. You’ve enabled it to thrive and flourish.

You like to set “homework” for organisations to help them work on gender equality. What homework would you assign our industry?

I would encourage them to ask what their parental leave policy is. We are a fearsome, proud industry. Why do we settle for being the best amongst only ourselves when it comes to gender equality and parental leave – when we want to be the best in the world in every other facet of business?